The difference between literal language and figurative language:


Literal language is language which means exactly what is: eg COWS


Figurative language:  This is the opposite of literal language.  It says more than you can see on the surface.  It can create vivid impressions by setting up comparisons between dissimilar things.


Figurative language uses imagery, for example word pictures for the reader.   It uses the various senses, ie sight, sound, taste, touch, smell or movement, in order to do so.


If rhythm is the beating heart of a poem, then figurative language is the blood that flows through its veins.  When we think about the poems that we love,  we think about the way that the poet has written them, the movement within the poem, ie the metre, and the words that have been used to make the subject really shine and perhaps make us see it in a completely different way.  We use images to depict the subject in a different light.


Don’t be afraid to use figurative poems with younger children.  I remember once reading my poem “Ode To The Bluebells” to a class of six year olds.  It is a Victorian ballad, depicting the bluebells as ladies of the glades and maidens, and I refer to their colour as hues.  I explained the meaning of maidens and hues to the children, and then just read the poem.  I said “Was that a bit difficult for you to understand?”  What was the answer?  “Easy-peasy” they said and skipped off to play as it was break-time.  One little girl came to me before she left and said:  “I will always think of this poem when I walk in the bluebell woods” for we have wonderful bluebell woods where we live.       



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This is a good example of figurative language, for I am not referring to young ladies at all, but to the simple little English bluebell growing and coming to life under the trees of an English wood.   This also is called PERSONIFICATION – giving something that is not human, human qualities.


When I wrote Ode to the Bluebells, I wrote it extremely quickly.  The words flooded into my brain and I had an insurmountable urge to write them down, almost as if from dictation.  It was very strange and is the only time when such a thing has happened.


As regards figurative language, I had not considered it as I wrote so quickly the words, but I have been asked many times by people if they may use this poem for funeral services because the words, figuratively, speak of resurrection to a new life after death, ie the rebirth of the bluebells in the springtime each year.


If you have been a reader of my poetry, you will have seen figurative language used by me in many many ways.  Watch out for it and learn to write your own poetry using these poetic techniques.  What else in nature never lasts?  Write it down.  There is the subject for your own poem.  Good writing!

Nature's Gift of Water